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Offseason Primers: Carolina Panthers

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Ron Rivera's first season as head coach in Carolina resulted in a 6-10 record, but there was plenty of optimism about a playoff run, in part because of the play of Cam Newton.

Instead, the team floundered early in Rivera's second season and finished with a 7-9 record, in part because of the play of Newton. Year 3 of the Rivera era could be the last in Carolina if the team doesn't post a winning record -- and you-know-who will be a huge factor.

2012 Touches Leaders
746 total touches (rush attempts + receptions)
DeAngelo Williams 186 (173 car., 13 rec.) 24.9%
Cam Newton 127 car. 17.0%
Jonathan Stewart 110 (93 car., 17 rec.) 14.8%
Mike Tolbert 81 (54 car., 27 rec.) 10.9%
Steve Smith 76 (73 rec., 3 car.) 10.2%
Greg Olsen 69 rec. 9.2%
Brandon LaFell 47 (44 rec., 3 car.) 6.3%
All Others 50 6.7%

The good news for Newton is that his play dramatically improved in the second half of the season, thanks to some tweaks in his game and a favorable schedule. He went from averaging a lousy 17.0 Fantasy points per game in his first seven games to 25.3 per game in his last nine. And for as big a deal as the Panthers' zone-read scheme was, he only scored on six such plays total (compared to 21 in a more standard formation). With many analysts believing defenses will have an answer for the zone-read in 2013, this should be viewed as good news.

And for the first time since his high school days, Newton will be in the same offensive scheme for the third straight year, albeit with a new play caller. Mike Shula replaces Rob Chudzinski as the Panthers offensive coordinator and he's expected to keep most if not all of Chudzinski's offense in place. While there might not be as much creativity as 'Chud' was able to infuse, it keeps Newton comfortable and confident, which is important as he continues to develop.

Newton already will enter 2013 with momentum from last year, but if the Panthers provide him with a good offensive line, he'll have the chance at some monster numbers. And the better he does, the better the Panthers will do. Newton could turn out to be a gem of a pick if he falls to the third round as many expect him to in Fantasy drafts.

DeAngelo Williams -- Offseason sleeper

2012 Target Leaders
490 pass attempts
Steve Smith 138 28.2%
Greg Olsen 104 21.2%
Brandon LaFell 76 15.5%
Louis Murphy 60 12.2%
Mike Tolbert 39 8.0%
Jonathan Stewart 23 4.7%
DeAngelo Williams 20 4.1%
All Others 30 6.1%

Let's be honest: No one's looking for Williams on Draft Day based on how he's done the last two years. He'll be on the wrong side of 30 when the season starts, his rushing average dipped on more carries in 2012 and it would have been practically a full yard lower than the 4.3 average he finished with if not for a 210-yard effort in a meaningless game at New Orleans in Week 17. But before you completely turn your back on Williams, know this: His usage has been a sizable factor in his production as he's failed to post big numbers in part because of a lack of opportunities. Here's proof: Williams has posted 10-plus Fantasy points in half of the 14 games with at least 12 carries he's had over the past three seasons. Make the magic number 13 carries and he's even more efficient, delivering 10-plus Fantasy points in 70 percent of his games. Now there are some fluky stats to help that number up (back-to-back games with 40-plus-yard touchdown receptions last year, for example), but he does not look slow nor does he display any significant decline in ability. If he gets the chance to escape Carolina and play with some consistency in an offense that doesn't let the quarterback hog goal-line work, there's potential for a 1,000-total-yard, eight-touchdown season.

Jonathan Stewart -- Sleeper

Expected 2013 Draft Averages
Cam Newton 20-30 overall
Steve Smith 65-75 overall
Jonathan Stewart 65-75 overall
DeAngelo Williams 75-90 overall
Greg Olsen 90-100 overall
Brandon LaFell Late-round pick
Mike Tolbert Late-round pick
Panthers DST Undrafted
Scenario A has the Panthers keeping DeAngelo Williams, muddying up what would otherwise be a delightful running back situation. Scenario B: The aforementioned delightful running back situation, where Williams is somewhere else and Stewart gets a decent amount of work every week. With a restructured contract in hand (proof the team wants him) and just 93 carries from a season ago, the 26-year-old stands to work as the primary rushing force in the Carolina offense. He was on his way there last year, getting 10-plus carries in six of nine games before hurting his ankle and ultimately having surgery. That's the same amount of 10-carry games he had in 2011, a sign the Panthers tried to lean on him more. There are obvious injury concerns with Stew but he's been a proven 1,000-total-yard guy in the past. The only catch would be touchdown production since he'd almost certainly lose out on goal-line work with Newton and Mike Tolbert in the fold. If Williams is out, Stewart should be in play as a 1,200-total-yard back, easily making him a worthy No. 3 running back.

Mike Tolbert -- Late-round flier

Aside from avoiding the Panthers running backs altogether, perhaps the best idea is to stick Tolbert on the back of your roster with a late pick. His first year in Carolina was gross -- only 54 carries, 27 receptions, 451 total yards and five of his seven touchdowns coming in the final three weeks of the season. But Tolbert split reps with two backs while seeing plenty of playing time as a fullback and a running back. If the Panthers send DeAngelo Williams packing, that should give Tolbert more touches. Throw in Jonathan Stewart's constant ankle and foot problems and one might envision Tolbert working as the full-time back at some point in 2012. At worst, an owner burns a late pick on Tolbert and dumps him after a couple of weeks. At best, Tolbert falls into a 15-touch role on a weekly basis. The risk in taking Tolbert late is low.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter @CBSFantasyFB . You can also follow Dave at @daverichard and on Facebook .

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Player News
Ryan Fitzpatrick fades in MNF loss
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(12:44 am ET) Texans quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick got off to a great start Monday against the Steelers, leading three straight scoring drives. But he forced a throw into traffic late in the first half, and it got deflected and picked off by defensive end Brett Keisel.

Fitzpatrick finished 21 of 32 for 262 yards and two touchdowns with the one interception. When he was playing well early, the team converted its first three third downs. Houston finished 4 of 12 on third down. Fitzpatrick has accounted for nine touchdowns and eight turnovers this year.

Both of Fitzpatrick's scoring passes went to running backs, with Alfred Blue taking a short pass 11 yards for a first-quarter touchdown and Arian Foster hauling in a 1-yard score late in the fourth.

Fitzpatrick visits the Titans in Week 8.


Randy Bullock redeems himself
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(12:34 am ET) After missing a 37-yard field-goal try Week 6, Texans kicker Randy Bullock converted all three of his attempts in Monday's loss at Pittsburgh. Bullock was good from 39, 38 and 31 yards and added two PATs for 11 points.

He'll visit Tennessee in Week 8.


Texans' role players contribute Week 7
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(12:30 am ET) The Texans got contributions from several role players in Monday's 30-23 loss at Pittsburgh. Backup running back Alfred Blue ran five times for 14 yards and took a dumpoff pass 11 yards for his first career touchdown.

Tight end Garrett Graham caught two of three targets for 24 yards, and wideout Damaris Johnson had a 15-yard reception and a bad drop. Tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz hauled in a 9-yard pass, while receiver Keshawn Martin added a 5-yard grab.

They'll all visit the Titans in Week 8.


Shaun Suisham stays hot on MNF
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(12:27 am ET) Steelers kicker Shaun Suisham improved to 14 of 15 on field goals by drilling three in Monday's win over Houston. Suisham connected from 44, 30 and 40 yards and added three PATs for a 12-point night.

He'll face the Colts in Week 8.


Steelers get offensive contributions
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(12:25 am ET) The Steelers got a variety of offensive contributions in their 30-23 win over the Texans. Among them, running back LeGarrette Blount ran seven times for 9 yards and caught an 8-yard pass. Running back Dri Archer carried twice for 7 yards.

Tight end Heath Miller secured his only target for 13 yards, while wideout Markus Wheaton was targeted twice without a catch. They'll all play the Colts in Week 8.


Lance Moore scores again Week 7
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(12:22 am ET) Steelers No. 3 receiver Lance Moore caught a touchdown pass for the second straight game Monday, hauling in a 3-yard bullet from fellow wideout Antonio Brown on a trick play. Moore caught both his targets for 12 yards, and his two catches represented a season high.

He'll play the Colts in Week 8.


Big Ben throws for 265 yards, two TDs in victory
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(12:18 am ET) Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw multiple touchdown passes for the first since Week 4, completing 23 of 33 throws for 265 yards and two scores Monday against the Texans. Roethlisberger did not toss an interception but lost a fumble while getting sacked.

It was a nice bounceback for Roethlisberger, who had accounted for two touchdowns and two turnovers in Weeks 5-6.

Roethlisberger found rookie Martavis Bryant for a 35-yard touchdown and running back Le'Veon Bell for a 2-yard score in a 24-point onslaught right before halftime. He had a touchdown pass called back when it was ruled Antonio Brown did not get both feet down.

Roethlisberger plays the Colts in Week 8.


Steelers WR Martavis Bryant makes immediate impact
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(12:12 am ET) Getting his first NFL action Monday, Steelers rookie wideout Martavis Bryant made his presence felt in the second quarter. He ran past Texans rookie corner Andre Hal and hauled in a 35-yard touchdown, dragging his left toe for the score.

Bryant caught another 5-yard pass later, giving him two catches on five targets for 40 yards. He likely earned more playing time Week 8 against the Colts.


DeAndre Hopkins goes over 100 yards for second time
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(12:01 am ET) Texans second-year wideout DeAndre Hopkins recorded his second 100-yard receiving game this season, catching six passes for 108 yards in the loss at Pittsburgh. Hopkins produced one 100-yard game as a rookie.

Hopkins, who shared the team lead with nine targets, lost a critical fumble in the fourth quarter when he was stripped by safety Mike Mitchell on a 32-yard reception. It was his first lost fumble this season, second of his career.

Hopkins visits the Titans in Week 8.


Andre Johnson salvages night with big fourth quarter
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(10/20/2014) Texans receiver Andre Johnson had one 4-yard reception through three quarters Monday night at Pittsburgh. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick finally looked Johnson's way in the fourth quarter, and the 33-year-old wideout finished with five catches for 77 yards.

In the process, Johnson moved past Steve Largent for 14th place in career receiving yards. Johnson has 14,057 receiving yards.

Johnson shared the team lead with nine targets, his average this season. He'll visit the Titans in Week 8.


 
 
 
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